Current Location: Whidbey Island NAS Cliffside RV Park 55 degrees F and dark skies
When planning our Puget Sound trip, I discovered again the fabulous retired military benefit of camping at Military Family Camps that are on many bases throughout the country. Finding good camping in this highly populated part of the west isn’t easy. Boondocking sites are few and far between, with no public lands in the vicinity, and state parks are expensive. I was delighted to locate two FamCamps in the vicinity of our planned travels.
Just south of Tacoma, at Joint Base Fort Lewis-McChord in what is called North Lewis, is a lovely forested spacious camp along American Lake. Within noise distance of I-5, the thick forest muffles the sound of the interstate and I only heard traffic in the dark at 5am as the morning commute commenced.
We had reservations, and were efficiently sent to site 106, a back-in spot surrounded by trees. Cable is provided and until we turned on the TV we didn’t know that a digital television was required. Ah well then, let’s set up the satellite. Of course, we were surrounded by trees, but the empty site across the way, a pull through site, had full view of the southern sky.
Without any difficulty, I went back to the office, requested the change, and in minutes we were settled into the new site with the satellite all hooked up. Until the rain started and the signal scrambled. Often camping without benefit of hookups, much less television, it was no big deal, but it is nice to keep abreast of world events now and then.
My Verizon MiFi worked great, which was also a good thing since I saw nary a sign of the base wifi that was supposed to be available in this campground. Mo was running low on prednisone for Abby and we needed to find a vet who would refill her prescription.
We found a vet at a nearby PetSmart who agreed to see Abby, and decided that we could continue north to visit Gig Harbor for the rest of the afternoon. Gig Harbor is a beautiful small town with a famous walking waterfront, lots of good restaurants, and art galleries. A trendy, touristy, fun place. I have read about it often, and always wanted to visit.
As we crossed the Tacoma Narrows bridge on Highway 16 we were warned that traffic backup in Gig Harbor was more than 4 miles out. Having no clue as to the cause, we simply assumed that it was standard traffic stuff for an area known for congested traffic. We made it to town eventually and parked a few blocks up from the waterfront and the Tides Tavern, our destination restaurant.
Tides was delightful, and I did have to do a “food porn” shot of my incredible salmon sliders. We were just in time for happy hour, and in addition to a great beer selection, the happy hour menu was perfect for our late afternoon lunch/early supper. Mo had a single piece of fish and chips, but my sliders were on fresh baked slider buns, slathered with chipotle aioli on one side and basil pesto on the other. Yum. Oh, and don’t forget the fried pickles as well. First time I had them was in Seaside Florida, and these weren’t as good, but still yummy.
Our waiter was perfect, just chatty enough and the service was excellent. Our waiter showed us where Mt Rainier was located in the clouds. The tavern is famous for its view of the mountain. He told us where we might walk to see the town, but as we watched the rain pour down we decided that a drive through might be a better choice. Gig Harbor is great, but not so much in a heavy pouring rain.
That is when it got interesting. The traffic was bumper to bumper, completely stopped no matter which way we turned. It was impossible to get over to the freeway, so we drove north a bit, while I navigated with the phone to try to find a way around to get back south. We turned off into no man’s land, only to find more bumper to bumper traffic in the middle of nowhere.
It seems there had been a huge wreck on the freeway, with both directions closed for many miles. With some creative navigating, I got us to the exit just before the bridge and we finally got out of the stop and go traffic. It was an interesting experience…many hours of complicated driving and navigating for an hour or so of relaxing at a nice tavern on the water.
The next morning was our “Seattle Day” and after perusing several options, we decided to attempt a visit to the Chihuly Glass and Gardens show at the Seattle Center. Neither of us wanted to do the same things we had done in past Seattle visits, aka Pioneer Square, Downtown, Pikes Market, all that “stuff”. Also on our list was a visit to the Fremont District and the Ballard District, with perhaps a side trip to the Washington Park Arboretum.
It didn’t sound like a big deal or too much of an agenda until we actually got on the Interstate north into downtown Seattle. Bumper to Bumper. Dead stop. All roads on the Google Map traffic completely red. Signs saying the interstate is gridlocked. So. Getting off the interstate, we drove downtown on the 99, enjoying the high level view of the city from the Viaduct…the one that needs some serious earthquake protection work, but that is another story. The Seattle skyline is always magical no matter the vantage point.
As we drove north, thinking we could bypass Seattle Center for the time being, we somehow ended up on 99, considerably west of our Ballard destination, but right in the middle of the Fremont district. I was trying to navigate with the phone, trying to figure out where to go, when we somehow turned into a tiny side road that led us directly to the famous Troll under the Bridge. I had read about the troll in years past, but it wasn’t even on our radar for this day of exploration.
The story of the troll is here, and definitely worth checking out. For us, it was a happy accident and we continued driving through the Fremont feeling as though we had been lucky. We were in the baby car/Tracker, and even so the streets in the Fremont area are incredibly narrow and tight.
Continuing through the district, we found the corner with the famous statue of Lenin that to this day is controversial. There is another story behind this statue as well that is interesting. The alternative culture of the Fremont is evident everywhere, with cannabis shops, art studios, artistic grafitti, and interesting people walking around.
Without a good city map (a paper map!) I had to rely on the phone to try to navigate and without actual addresses it was a bit of a stretch to find “the Ballard District”. We knew it was somewhere west, so kept driving narrow streets and tight traffic until we came to the Scandinavian Museum. The Ballard District was originally very Scandinavian, but has since become more upscale urban and I didn’t see a lot of Scandinavian influence. It was a bit confusing, but we drove most of Market Street.
Once again, this is the kind of neighborhood that requires more time to truly enjoy. In the rain and with limited time, neither of us were really into the shopping eating and walking kind of thing that should be savored slowly. Both the Fremont and the Ballard districts would lend themselves well to a B and B stay for a few days with ample time to sample the shops and brews and food. Still, we at least got a taste, if a tiny one.
The Ballard Locks are in this area as well, and would be another fun place to visit with more time and less rain.
We could see the Space Needle to the south, and managed to navigate to the area, but then finding parking was daunting. There are several public parking lots and one even had a weekday special for ten bucks. I knew going in that parking would be difficult and expensive, but somehow when we actually got there neither of us was in the mood to pay a bunch for parking and a bunch more for the exhibition and we just decided to skip it. I think both of us were getting pretty tired of traffic and crazy circuitous routes by that time.
Thinking perhaps a walk in the Arboretum would be more to our liking, I attempted once again to navigate our way out of downtown Seattle toward the Interstate 5 and Washington Park. The interstate north wasn’t too bad until we somehow managed to get into the Express lane and couldn’t get off until we crossed a bridge and then had to find our way back south over another bridge.
I used to love the energy of Seattle, it is a great city. It is a city that should be seen without a car, arriving on a cruise ship, staying in a downtown hotel, making use of public transportation and walking a lot. It isn’t a place to go to in a day with a car. Ever again. Not for me. I was exhausted from continually trying to navigate, reroute, navigate again and keep up with the shifts.
The Arboretum is a treasure, a respite in the midst of a crazy day and we loved every minute we were there. Again, it is a place that requires much more than just dropping in for a walk. One could walk here for days and not see all the wonders, especially the 500 varieties of Japanese maples.
Our respite didn’t last long because we knew that in order to avoid complete gridlock we needed to leave Seattle no later than 2:30. Daughter Deanna later told me we should have left by 2 at the latest. I think that would mean we should leave before we get there to avoid traffic. Deciding to skip I-5 altogether, which was already gridlocked, we drove across the 520 toll bridge (where the fees are only the pay by mail version if you don’t have a pass) to Bellevue and onto the 405 south toward Renton. Again, bumper to bumper, stop and go…and this was 2:30 in the afternoon on a Wednesday! By the time we hit Tacoma, it was 3:30 and once again it was stop and go bumper to bumper.
We were both starving and I seriously wanted a beer! I searched for and found a brewery not too far off the interstate north of our home destination, and we managed to slip into the Tacoma Mall. Turns out the brewery was right in the middle of the huge mall and the huge parking lot was very full. Ack! Instead, we opted for sliding into the Red Robin parking lot nearby. With a draft Octoberfest and some kind of southern whiskey hamburger, I finally began to relax, preparing for the next jaunt south on I-5 to our campsite.
Excited about finally getting back home, I prepared for our base gate entrance by getting out our ID. Fort Lewis is a 100% ID check base. UhOh. Mo’s wallet was nowhere to be found. Seems as though we spent the entire day with her driving and her wallet back on base in the MoHo. With no clue how we were going to get back on base, we looked at each other and just kept driving.
At the gate, I had said specifically that I would be sure to keep my mouth shut and let Mo do the talking. Of course, I am nothing if not mouthy at the wrong times, and in spite of my desire to keep my mouth shut, I started blabbering at the guard. Sheesh. In spite of my mouth, when Mo fully explained the problem, he let us in the gate, saying, “Just go ahead”. whew!
Back to the rig, wallet in hand, we got back in the car to go across to the other side of the base for provisions from the commissary. Whew again. Just writing about this day has exhausted me again, so I am not going to continue writing about our trip north to the Port Townsend ferry the next morning, reservations in hand. Another crazy thing….but that is next.